My brain is working in overtime. My heart palpitates in my chest. I feel nauseous. Yet—here I am simply driving down Downing Street in Denver, a street that is framed by trees and parks and flowers and Coloradans walking their dogs.
Meanwhile, 3,000 miles across the world, across an ocean, a desert away, death.
Yesterday, with the official move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, all eyes were on Israel. Yesterday, on the 59th day of the Great Freedom March, 55 Gazans died. Yesterday, on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, over two thousand injuries (at least 1,350 from live ammunition) of individuals who were walking up to the border fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel. Yesterday, on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the United States opened the new embassy in Jerusalem and opened up the wounds of the conflict.
Here are three important eye-witness accounts of the protests:
Yesterday, my friends prayed with their feet by attending protest after protest: in front of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, in front of the old US Embassy in Tel Aviv, in front of the Prime Minister’s house, in front of the Knesset, on the road, at the highway junction. Police cordoned off protestors, counter-protests antagonized the individuals, signs were confiscated, voices were silenced. As evening fell and death-tolls arrived, my friends returned to the same streets to hold vigils and demand an end to the violence.
Here in Denver, my WhatsApp flooded over with organizing, protest chants, updates, videos, and violence. My mouth tightens in a grimace, my brow furrows, and I feel the itch of tears at the corners of my eyes. I drove past a vigil taking place outside the Colorado State Capitol—my hands became clammy. It felt so wrong to be so far.
The line of a Jewish Sephardic poet comes to mind, one that has often been attributed to the Zionist project, and one which I am reclaiming here:
לבי במזרח ואנוכי בסוף מערב
[My heart is in the East though I am in the ends of the West]
As I write this now, official reports say that 58 people have died. This is the most deaths in one day in Gaza since the war in 2014. It feels like an eruption of violence.
However, this is no coincidence. This is no break from the norm either. This is a continuation of the constant erasure that has been experienced by Palestinians. Erasure of history, erasure of names, erasure of existence. The deaths are news, but only now because we are watching. Only now because the current US administration has blundered into Jerusalem and the media follows. (Since the announcement of the embassy move in December until the end of January 2018 alone, 20 Palestinians and one Israeli had been killed, and over 5,000 Palestinians and 17 Israelis injured—according to OCHA. Yet it has not been continuously reported in Western news outlets).
By moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem today, the United States successfully acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The date is significant, not just for the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, but for the historical marker of the beginning of the Nakba in Palestinian history. The Nakba (the catastrophe) of 1948 led to the eradication of Palestinian villages, history, and a people, and has persisted until today (See Lila Abu-Lughod, Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory). Beyond claiming land, the War of 1948 claimed history as a victory too.
There is violence in erasure, in ignoring, in looking away, in pretending not to see. In order to change, we have to look. We have to look with our eyes wide open, see the juxtaposing images of ceremony and catastrophe. Humanity is reclaimed in the acknowledgement of others, of their lives, of their struggles, of their joys.
I remember last year, I met my friend's cousin. She lives in Gaza City and had acquired a permit to visit her family in Jericho for Ramadan. It was her first time leaving the Gaza Strip in 13 years. She was about my age, has two little children at home who were not given permits to come with her. Her eyes sparkled--blue with flecks of sea foam green. Her smile reached from ear to ear, her cheeks could only be described as rosy. She shared with me how there are constant electricity cut-offs. Sometimes they only have one hour of electricity a day. While I had read reports about there only being four hours a day of electricity, it didn't really make sense to me until she began describing how she ironed her dress. She explained how she wanted to look nice for the trip to see her grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. She left the iron plugged in, waiting, and every time the electricity turned on, she rushed to use it to smooth out the wrinkles. Maybe 10 minutes at a time. The whole process took her a day. She smiled with joy as her cousin, and my friend, came up to talk to us both. I wanted to look away as tears welled over, but instead I cried with both of them in the joy of being re-united.
The Great Freedom March in Gaza is an attempt to draw attention to the daily lives of Gazans. To call attention to their lives, to the lack of human dignity afforded to humans that live in an open-aired prison. To shout for the redress of history, to make enough noise that one can no longer be ignored.
The March began on March 30th with a planned culmination on May 15th because it coincides with both Nakba day and the move of the US Embassy. Over the last seven weeks, the March has seen crowds of over 200,000 individuals weekly. Palestinians march towards the fence. Kites are flown, songs are sung, meals are cooked. There are some images of the March that remind me of Sumud Freedom Camp.
The organizers use nonviolent resistance in order to draw attention to their lives and they have been met with brutality. That doesn't mean that there also has not been violence or attempted crossings into Israel. There have been burning tires, molotov cocktails, and reports of some individuals with guns. The fires caused a field of nearby Israeli Kibbutz to catch on fire and spread.
There is serious cause for concern from the Israeli perspective as security may be breached as thousands of people mingle on the borderlands. But, that ignores the system of oppression that is really the cause of these deaths. Or the use of live ammunition as a protest deterrent. Or the continual use of tear gas and sound bombs and rubber bullets (that harm as much as they deter--a 4 year old died today as a result of being exposed to tear gas).
Here I want to share the words of one of the organizers of the Great Freedom March, Ahmed Abu Ratima:
“Still, despite the response from Israeli snipers, I continue to be committed to nonviolence, as are all of the other people “coordinating” this march. I use quotation marks because when a movement becomes this large — attracting what we estimate to be as many as 200,000 people on Fridays — it cannot be completely controlled. We discouraged the burning of Israeli flags and the attachment of Molotov cocktails to kites. We want peaceful, equal coexistence to be our message.
We have also tried to discourage protesters from attempting to cross into Israel. However, we can’t stop them.
It is the action of an imprisoned people yearning for freedom, one of the strongest motivations in human nature.”
In a small and distant attempt to honor the humanity, here is a list of the names of the civilians who died yesterday. They are more than just numbers. They were living, breathing mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, and friends. They will not be erased.
May their memories be a blessing.
Northern Gaza Strip
1. Mos’ab Yousef Ibrahim Abu Lilah (28), from al-Shaiekh Redwan neighborhood, was hit with live bullet shrapnel to the back and settled below heart, which caused bleeding;
2. Mohamed Ashraf Moahmed Abu Sitah (25), from Beit Hanoun, was hit with a live bullet to the chest;
3. Mohamed Hussni al-Najjar (33), from Jabalia, was hit with a live bullet to the chest; and
4. Sa’di Sa’ied Fahmi Abu Salah (16), from Beit Hanoun, was hit with a live bullet to the abdomen.
276 civilians, including 50 children and 10 women
5. ‘Alaa Anwar Ahmed al-Khateeb (27) was hit with a live bullet to the head;
6. Ahmed Majed Qasem ‘Atallah (27) was hit with a live bullet to the right thigh, which cut the main artery;
7. Zaied Mohamed Hasan Omar ( al-‘Amareen), 22, was hit with a live bullet to the chest;
8. Ahmed Zuhair Hamed al-Shawa (23) was hit with a live bullet to the chest;
9. Taher Ahmed Madi (24) was hit with a live bullet to the neck;
10. Fadel Mohamed ‘Atah al-Habashi (34) was hit with a live bullet to the neck;
11. Samer Nael ‘Awni al-Shawa (22) hit with a live bullet to the abdomen;
12. Mahmoud Wael Mahmoud Jundiyia (19) hit with a live bullet to the chest;
13. Yazan Ibrahim Mohamed al-Tobasi (23) hit with a live bullet to the right eye;
14 ‘Emad Mohamed Khalil al-Naffa (24) was hit with live bullet shrapnel to the left shoulder, neck and back; and
15. Talal ‘Adel Ibrahim Matter (16) was hit with a live bullet to the head.
650 civilians, including 21 women, 125 children, 7 journalists and 2 paramedics
Central Gaza Strip:
16. Wissal 'Ezzat al-Sheikh Khalil (14) from al-Maghazi was hit with a bullet to the head;
17. Mahmoud Yehia 'Abdul Wahhab Hussein (24) from al-Bureij was hit with a bullet to the abdomen;
18. Ahmed 'Abdullah 'Abdullah al-'Adeini (37) from Deir al-Balah was hit with a bullet to the abdomen;
19. Mukhtar Kamel Salem Abu Khammash (23) from deir al-Balah was hit with a bullet to the chest;
20. Mohammed Samir Mohammed Idweidar (29) from al-Nussairat was hit with a bullet to the abdomen;
21. 'Ezz al-Deen Mousa Mohammed al-Sammak (14) from al-Bureij was hit with a bullet to the abdomen; and
22. 'Abdul Rahman Sami 'Aqel Abu Matter (18) from al-Nussairat was hit with a bullet to the head.
300 civilians, including 22 women, 56 children, 1 paramedic and 1 journalist
23. Anas Hamdan Salem Qudeih (21) from 'Abasan al-Kabirah was hit with a bullet to the chest.
24. 'Obaydah Salem 'Abed Raboh Farhanah (30) from Bani Suheilah was hit with a bullet to the chest.
25. Belal Ahmed Saleh Abu Daqqah (26) from 'Abasan al-Kabirah was hit with a bullet to the head.
26. Jihad Mufeed 'Abdul Men'em al-Farra (30) from al-Qararah was hit with a bullet to the chest.
27. Fadi Hassan Salman Abu Selmi (Abu Salah) (30) from 'Abasan al-Kabirah was hit with a bullet to the chest, noting that his legs were amputated in a previous Israeli bombing.
28. 'Ezz al-Deen Nehro Salman al-'Aweiti (24) from Ma'en was hit with a bullet to the head.
29. 'Abdul Salam Yousif 'Abdul Rahman 'Abdulah Wahab (39) from al-Satar al-Gharbi was hit with a bullet to the head.
30. Ahmed Mohammed Ibrahim Hamdan (28) from al-Amal neighborhood was hit with a bullet to the chest.
31. Ahmed 'Adel Mousa al-Sha'er (16) from Qayzan al-Najjar was hit with a bullet to the chest.
32. Mahmoud Rabah 'Alian Abu Mo'amar (28) from Ma'en was hit with a bullet to the head.
33. Kamel jihad Kamel Muhanna (20) from al-Qararah was hit with a bullet to the head.
34. Mahmoud Saber Hamad Abu T'eimah (20) from 'Abasan was hit with a bullet to the head.
35. Mahmoud Soliman Ibrahim 'Aqel (33) from 'Abasan al-Kabirah was wounded to the right knee and left thigh.
36. Mohammed Hasan Musatafa al-'Abadlah (25) from al-Qararah was hit with a bullet to the chest.
37. Ahmed Salem 'Alian al-Jorf (24) from 'Abasan al-Jadidah was hit with a bullet to the pelvis.
38. Mohamed 'Abdel Rahman 'Ali Meqdad (28) from 'Abasan al-Kabirah was hit with a bullet to the head.
361 civilians, including 43 children, 16 women and 3 journalists
39. Mo'atasem Fawzi Abu Louli (20) was hit with a bullet that shattered his head.
40. Mohammed Mahmoud 'Abdel Mo'ati 'Abdel 'Aal (39) was hit with a bullet to the chest.
41. Ahmed Fawzi Kamel al-Tatar (28) was hit with a bullet to the shoulder and back.
42. 'Ali Mohammed Ahmed Khafajah (21) was hit with a bullet to the head.
110 civilians, including 14 children, 1 woman and 1 journalist